November 18, 2020

One Antenna and a Dream

The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch.  

Craig:

Our guest today joins us from seven time zones away, the Founder and CEO of Cosmos Wireless, the wireless internet service provider with the fastest internet and lowest latency on the Eastern Mediterranean Island nation of Cyprus. It is a pleasure to welcome William Demetriou, Founder and CEO of Cosmos Wireless. William, welcome to The Broadband Bunch.

William:

Thank you very much, Craig. I’m very, very happy to be here today.

Craig:

Give us the background of how Cosmos Wireless came into being.

William:

I used to work as an IT director for a shipping company, and they basically asked me to network or if it was possible to reduce their networking costs, in the days of very slow and archaic connections like frame relay and dial-up. I discovered the world of wireless. We decided to network all their offices in Cyprus, where I’m currently living, and that worked fabulously. And I thought to myself, “Well, this could work on so many different levels. It would be amazing.”

William:

Fast forward to 10 years ago, I started the company basically just for a few neighbors and friends that were having trouble getting internet and at the time they were using GPRS or 3G. And we connected them up, which again, worked amazing. It was just me and an antenna on the top of my house. And then fast forward to today where we cover approximately 80% of the island, we’ve got coverage of the island of Cyprus, 80%. We cover all five major cities and villages and towns, and we have access to over 700,000 subscribers. At the moment we’re about between seven and 8,000 strong connections on the island and almost 20 employees.

Craig:

You made mention of that antenna on your house that got it started. And I remember in our previous conversation, there was a line, the way that you put it, was so apropos, one antenna and a dream. And that’s what it takes to get things started in an effort like this.

Craig:

What’s amazing is how rapidly in the length of time that Cosmos Wireless has been in existence, that you have expanded to have coverage of the entire island. With each tower, as I understand it, having full redundancy and in essence serving as its own individual network. Talk a little bit about that.

William:

Initially, I didn’t have a clue that the company would actually expand to what it is today. I was probably hoping to serve my immediate neighborhood and probably the town where I was living in, and that would have been great for me. But people just got word of this and kept asking.

Building a Wireless Networks

William:

We initially set it up as a bridge network, which was not a good idea if you wanted to really expand a lot. We redesigned the whole thing so that each tower, each pillar as it were, would be its own network. And each network with then interconnect to the following networks along the line. We’ve set it up that each tower has two links, the primary and the redundant link. And now we’re in the process of actually upgrading our towers to actually have fiber connectivity as well. There’s basically, there’s three links to the tower.

William:

The towers in themselves, they basically have what we call our comms cabinet, which is made up of the actual router. This then interfaces with the various sectors which would work on the traditional five four to five eight gigahertz band, and then the clients would connect to those. And obviously we use routing protocols all throughout, using OSPF to make sure that all the links and the routes are running optimally.

William:

And this is our model, and this is how we’re expanding. And we think it’s the best solution that’s out there at the moment that can actually give us the flexibility that we need to actually do the coverage that we need. And to be able to control it to the degree where we need to have full control over the entire wide-area network.

Craig:

I understand that you do have coverage in all five cities around the nation. And a big part of that obviously is dealing with the challenges the weather can provide and having the ability for battery backup I’m sure is factored into the configuration you use.

Wireless Towers Using Solar

William:

The power situation in Cyprus is very stable. We don’t usually have power outages, and if they do occur, they can be anywhere between one to six hours, if there’s any maintenance going on. So what we’ve done is we’ve designed a UPS system, which has been working really well for the last five years. Because the network’s grown so big now, that we actually have a person that’s in charge of ensuring that the batteries are all current and being replaced, if and when needed. But each tower can run on its own power for up to 10 hours.

William:

We have a lot of sites converting to solar, basically because we’ve got sites that don’t really have access to grid power. We’re moving to solar solutions for them, and we decided to use the same solar solution in places where we have power, just basically to cut out the grid costs that are incurred. We save between five to 700 euros a year in electricity costs per tower.

Craig:

I know that many providers around the world will limit their product offerings, many just to broadband. But when you look at what Cosmos provides, you really have a full triple play offering. Talk a little bit about that.

More Than Connectivity

William:

Initially we only offered the internet connectivity, and then we found that the clients would always come and ask us if we had telephone services or TV services, which we would say no. They would then go for their own solution. Then obviously being it’s not through us, if they incurred any problems for example with a TV package that they’d got from somewhere else that happened to use the internet. The first thing that they were told is that, “Well, speak to your internet provider.”

William:

We decided to start our own TV package. And we approached a local company here that had satellite services. And we said, “Listen, we can actually sell this for you. We have quite a few clients on our books who would be willing to go for this?” We struck a deal and provided a TV service, which over the years has expanded. We also provide to the British forces in Cyprus. We provide a custom-made package for them with UK channels. And of course, we set up our own PBX server as well to handle the VoIP services.

Expanding to Mobiles Services

William:

We’re triple play at the moment. We have a very good relationship with our upstream provider. We’re looking to offer their mobile services through us, just repackaged, with our logo. It’s primarily their cell service, their mobile service, so we can actually offer four different services. That’s going to be probably within the next 12 to 18 months where it will actually materialize.

Craig:

William, a moment ago, you made mention of one of your clients that might stand out as being slightly different than customers for most wireless providers. Did I hear you correctly when you said the British forces on Cyprus?

William:

I was approached around three and a half years ago by somebody who was working on one of the British bases in Cyprus. They were having problems because the state-owned or the semi state-owned telecoms provider in Cyprus, it was also providing them with internet connectivity, wasn’t doing a very good job. There’s only around 5,000 British troops based in Cyprus in the sovereign bases, strategically placed all over the island. And they were deemed being top priority to the main telecoms provider here.

Preferred ISP of the British Army

William:

I was approached. We said, “Yeah, we can help you out.” They gave us a tower. We installed equipment on that tower fairly fast, within 48 hours we had the tower up and running. And we had the first clients connected within the first week. They were actually absolutely amazed. They asked us if we could do that all over Cyprus, because they have their basis on the eastern part and the western part of the island, which we proceeded to do. Within the first year, we had networked all the sovereign bases. There’s two on the western part of the island and there’s two on the eastern part of the island.

William:

Through them we also got the contract for the United Nations, because the British army, the British forces, play a big role in the United Nations. We’ve got that contract as well. As you know, Cyprus does have a political situation being occupied by the Turkish army in the north, so they’re all along the buffer zone. We got all those installations as well. And we did such a good job that we are now the preferred service provider for the British forces and their families that are over here.

William:

And to the point where we just recently completed our latest installation, which is on top of the highest mountain peak in Cyprus, which is a mountain range called Troodos. We’re on top of Mount Olympus, which is 1,800 meters high. We’ve got an excellent installation up there. It’s primarily for them, but it will also serve our interest too, in being able to provide to a lot of these remote villages.

WISPA and WISPAPALOOZA

Craig:

I know you’re active in WISPA, you’ve attended WISPAPALOOZA. Talk a little bit about those experiences in years past, obviously the pandemic has not allowed in-person events like normal. But I know that you probably had some positive experiences at WISPAPALOOZA in years past.

William:

As we started to become a more serious player in the telecoms industry in Cyprus, I started doing some research to see how other companies all over the world were actually going about running their businesses, and if there’s any tips and tricks I could pick up. I noticed that the place to be where the huge seminars and the events were happening was in the United States. I decided to attend my first WISPAPALOOZA, almost five years ago. It was amazing. The collection of the experience and knowledge and the products, the vendors that are there, it’s second to none.

William:

I made it a regular thing. I went every year since, like you said, obviously this year, unfortunately, because of COVID. But the seminars I attended allowed me to implement change in my company. We’re able to grow leaps and bounds. And not just on the technical side. The technical side is probably something you could find out anyway. As you probably already know, many people in the WISP industry really enjoy helping other WISPS and other WISP founders.

Run Your Network as a Business

William:

Information is freely shared. However, things that you don’t learn online is how to run your business. I basically learned that running a WISP as a network first was not a good idea. I mean, you have to adhere to certain rules and you have to make sure that your network is running optimally. However, if you wish to make gains and big strides, then you really need to run your business as a business first, and as a close second as a network.

William:

I went to a few seminars. One thing that really helped me was the EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which I did a self-implementation, and we’ve just been growing ever since. I’d like to point out that since I’ve changed the strategy and used this operating system as a template for running our business, we’ve had the largest growth through those years. And this year has been no exception, even though there was a global pandemic and still going on, we’re more or less immune to that pandemic. And I put it down to operating the business as a business, as it should be operated.

Craig:

My next question deals with the impact of COVID-19. How has it affected your day-to-day operations?

William:

When the pandemic started, we had a lockdown in this country, which lasted quite a long time. At the beginning I started to worry because I thought, “Well, this is something that could actually close our business.” Cyprus is primarily a tourist destination. As a tourist destination, the businesses are mainly seasonal. The tourist industry runs for about six to eight months a year. And the beginning of each year, at the time when the pandemic hit, it was usually our busiest time, because many of the hotel owners and restaurants and bars and people that have holiday meetings and people that bought holiday homes, they all need the internet to be installed. And this is the time of year where we probably get most of our installations. And unfortunately, almost everybody that had booked a installation in March and April, canceled their installations.

Wireless Diversification Continuing to Grow

William:

But I’m a great believer of not having your eggs in one basket. And because we were so diverse, we were able to source other avenues of work for ourselves. Primarily again with the British bases, because that was the same time of year that they were having their changeover, where the old personnel would leave the island and the new personnel would come in. Obviously, they were also having to follow the rules and regulations that the pandemic made Cyprus operate under. So they needed to have quarantine centers, which also needed to have internet.

William:

That was quite good for us, because we were probably one of the only companies that didn’t actually go without work, and we didn’t have to furlough any of our staff and get them to stay home. We actually saw that there was just a very slight difference in the growth that we had in 2019, with what we had this year. After the restrictions were eased things started to pick up, but we did notice that we had a lot of people upgrading their packages for higher speeds.

William:

It was quite tough to keep up with the demand. We did a lot of upgrades on our network, but that was primarily funded by the fact that people are also upgrading their speeds. Because a lot of people were working from home in many of the jobs that they did. And of course the children couldn’t go to school, so they also had to have either faster internet or at least have an internet connection installed in their houses. As we were an internet provider, they had us as essential employees and we were allowed to go and do the installations. Nobody in the company’s actually caught COVID.

Craig:

Congratulations.

William:

We made sure that we followed all the precautions that were recommended. At the same time, we found that the business that was generated due to COVID, probably later on when people realized that this is going to go on and they needed to get internet to their homes, that remained after the measures where were relaxed. We’ve enjoyed growth due to COVID. I’m sure that other internet providers may have similar stories as well, because I think this happened on a global scale regarding internet usage.

Craig:

As we begin to wind down our visit, William. As you look to the future with the success that you’ve had, what do you see in the next five years for Cosmos Wireless?

William:

The next five years are going to have the most exciting time in our company’s short history. If the last five years are anything to go by, I should expect to be at least within the top three of the main internet providers on the island. Basically, we’re number five at the moment, but I expect to be in the top three, hoping to be in second place in the next few years.

Exporting Wireless Success to Other Islands

William:

Also, I’m looking to export this success because there’s a lot of similarities with where we are on the island of Cyprus and many of the Greek islands, which are adjacent to us in the Mediterranean. They’re all having difficulty with getting internet connectivity to remote places and within the towns. You hear many reports still that people are not satisfied with their internet connections. It’s something that we could probably franchise out within the next five years.

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